Just Get Started!
Introduction: The Monkey, the Monster, and the Decision Maker
Once upon a time, there lived a Rational Decision Maker that resided inside your brain. This decision-maker had a plan: do what you should be doing now to get tasks done in a timely manner leading to a well-balanced and not overwhelming life. Sounds pretty straightforward…but suddenly, unbeknownst to you or the Rational Decision-Maker, there is another character inside your brain called the Instant-Gratification Monkey. His goal is also very simple: do what’s easy and fun. He’s the animal inside your brain who, when looking at your upcoming assignments due, takes the steering wheel and yanks it out of the Rational Decision Maker’s hands! Chaos ensues as the monkey mindlessly maneuvers your brain to all sorts of distracting destinations (the couch, the cell phone, the fridge, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, TV…even other chores such as cleaning your house…ANYTHING but what you should be doing at this moment).
At this point, intervention is sadly left for…the PANIC MONSTER. This is the third character inside your brain that ultimately wakes up when an assignment is due…tonight?!? The monster scares the monkey away and now as if out of nowhere, there comes the ability for you to feverishly write 5 pages in record time before the clock strikes 11:59 (technically 11:58:59…I found that out the hard way). Sound familiar?
Two Types of Procrastination
What I just shared is an adaptation from the famous TedTalk video "Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” by Tim Urban. This humorous presentation quickly takes a serious tone when Urban describes how procrastination is most destructive in our lives when there is NO deadline to meet. When deadlines are involved, assignments get done (more or less), jobs get finished, and things happen (although probably not always in the way that you hoped). Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of putting things off that don’t have solid deadlines (such as maintaining your overall physical, spiritual, mental, and social health). In other words, it’s the non-deadline type of procrastination that is the real problem that also leads to procrastination in things that do have deadlines.
For example, in your college classes, there are deadlines for when you need to finish your assignments. There is not a deadline, however, for when you should actually start the assignment. The reason we procrastinate is probably not because we are putting off finishing the assignment, but because we are putting off starting the assignment.
It’s Time to ACT
So, what can we do to help us just get started? The answer…you just have to A.C.T.
A is for ACCOUNTABILITY (surround yourself with support)
When it comes to improving your time management, sometimes it’s hard to even know where to begin, especially with all of the many different things going on in your life. If you’re not sure where to begin or how to stay on track, why wait to ask for help? I am a senior now at Weber State University and I still have had to learn this over and over again. If there is anything that I can encourage you within this blog, it is that you don’t have to go through this college journey alone.
Whether it’s your family, friends, spouse, or roommates, make sure to consistently include those around you who want to support you and help you better manage your time. Simply using them as a “sounding board” while you verbalize what you plan to accomplish can help solidify in your mind what you need to do. Moreover, as they become more aware of what is going on in your schedule, they can more effectively encourage you to keep moving forward and to say “no” to extra commitments that will hinder your college experience.
C is for CREATING your own deadlines and goals using a CALENDAR
Time Management begins when we take the time to make the time. In other words, stay organized by using a calendar or a to-do list. Until we actually sit down and thoroughly plan out the steps for what we will do and when we are left with no real direction or objective other than the looming deadline that we end up addressing…sometime in the future. Instead, we should give ourselves a clear direction by breaking down bigger tasks into smaller pieces and having an outline of what we want to accomplish each day of the week.
EVERY WEEK, have a set time (maybe Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons) when you plan out the specifics of what you want to accomplish each day of the following week, looking at one class at a time (I call this “Calendar Time”).
EVERY DAY, review your plan for the week and follow through with the tasks you created that day, checking them off as you complete them. Remember, even if you have a calendar and even if you write goals down in your calendar, a planner is only as good as how often you look at it. Use your calendar on a daily basis. Keep it with you or in a place where you can regularly review it and check things off your list.
For example, suppose you have a research paper due two weeks from Sunday. During your weekly “calendar time,” you might schedule to have a brainstorming session on Monday, your outline done on Tuesday, your sources collected by Thursday, and your rough draft started on Friday. Then next week, you finish the rough draft on Monday, polish it on Tuesday, and officially turn it in on Wednesday (with 4 days to spare).
T is for THINKING SMALL (using the big picture)
Now that you have created specific and measurable goals and have broken down the big assignments into bite-sized pieces, you can free your mind from stressing about all that you have to do. It’s all a matter of taking it one step at a time. Don’t think about the big assignment you have to finish. Remove any intimidating thoughts you have by replacing them with what is more attainable. For your paper, focus on getting the outline done or finding your sources, or finding maybe half of your sources. The bottom line is this: the beginning is half the battle. It reminds me of the law of inertia which states that “a body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion”. Once you start a project, you are more likely to stay motivated to do even more than what you planned at that time. You will then also have something to work with as you continue to return to this project, making it less intimidating than before.
I hope that this blog encourages you to be mindful of how you think about your procrastination. By having Accountability, Creating a specific plan, and Thinking about your goals one step at a time, you can more easily set yourself up for success as you ACT with purpose in everything you do.
As Academic Peer Coaches, we are here for you to give encouragement and guidance. We can also help you create specific and realistic goals and provide a support base to help you achieve them. Sometimes, all it takes to improve is to simply have that accountability and friendly reminder to keep at it. You can make a coaching appointment through TutorTrac in your eWeber portal, or you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we as rational decision-makers can tame the Instant-Gratification Monkey while keeping the Panic Monster at bay.
Lucas, J. (2017). Inertia & Newton’s first law of motion. LiveScience.
TED. (2016, April 6). Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator - Tim Urban [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU&ab_channel=TED
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